Four options for saving taxpayers $5.5 million in annual medical insurance coverage costs were outlined in a series of meetings Monday for retirees and current employees of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.
One of those options would place 100 percent of the financial burden on school system retirees, Chief Business Operations Officer Catherine Fletcher told two groups of retirees at separate meetings at the system’s Professional Development Center on North Sherwood Forest Drive.
Richard Raether, retired former finance director for the system, said that proposal holds the potential for dividing retirees and current employees. Raether, of Prairieville, expressed frustration over what he said were repeated unsuccessful requests for categorical cost data from the system.
“I’m not seeing any data,” Raether said. “Let’s see who is costing this plan what amount.”
In Monday’s only morning meeting, a group of 88 retirees expressed unanimous opposition to the option that would load all of the $5.5 million in extra costs onto retirees’ fixed incomes, Fletcher confirmed. She said unanimous opposition totaled 97 votes in the afternoon session.
“I don’t think anyone thinks it’s a realistic solution,” School Board President Barbara Freiberg said of the option increasing costs only for retirees. “I’m not real excited about any of these (options).”
Freiberg told retirees at the afternoon meeting at the Professional Development Center: “This is very important to all of us. We’re going to do the best that we can for both retirees and active employees.”
Retirees were equally vocal about the option they would choose, if necessary. They expressed unanimous support in the afternoon session for an option that would save taxpayers $5.5 million by increasing annual insurance premiums for both current employees and retirees by approximately 26 percent.
Raether expressed gratitude to Freiberg for ensuring that retirees are not “kicked out of the group” health plan.
After the afternoon meeting, Raether added in an interview: “Don’t throw us out.”
Raether said the pledge to retirees when he was finance director was always, “You will have the same health insurance as regular employees. That was the promise.
“Now, the communication with retirees has been poor,” Raether said. “So, I’m concerned.”
After the morning session, three retired educators expressed confusion and concern over the four options that could affect their health care.
“We’ve got so many different situations,” within those options, said Aaron Biggers, of Baton Rouge.
“They need to let us hear more before suddenly … it’s carved in stone,” said his wife, Ann Biggers.
Jerry Boudreaux, of Zachary, said: “We know medical care is going up, but there’s no one telling us anything. I just hope we can make sense of all this.”
There was no retiree support for two other options that school system officials said would reduce system expenses. Those options were intended to save the system money by expanding deductibles, reducing some benefits and raising some premiums. The other two options are as follows:
- No premium rate hikes, but increases on almost everything else. It’s the most complicated of the four new options. Changes include higher deductibles ranging between $200 a year and $400 a year, higher co-payments ranging from 5 percent to 10 percent more per visit, and higher out-of-pocket maximums ranging from $1,000 to $21,000 more. Only members of the less-generous Core plan would pay more for prescriptions drugs.
- Raise premiums for all employees but increase them more for those on the more-generous Buy-Up plan and less for those on the Core plan. For instance, active employees with no dependents who are Buy-Up members would pay $43 more a month in premiums whereas an across-the-board increase would raise their monthly premiums just $34.
The same employee on the Core Plan, however, would have to foot an $8 monthly premium increase, compared with a $17 hike under an across-the-board increase.
Current school system employees were scheduled to receive information about the four options Monday night at McKinley Middle Magnet School, Scotlandville Magnet High School and Woodlawn High School.
A copy of the presentation on the four new options can be seen at http://news.ebrschools.org/eduWEB2/1000169/docs/hc_options_presentation_doc_813.pdf.